Boston is my home, the place where I can reach out and touch nearly all the people I love most in the world.  I spent most of yesterday trying to make contact with each one of them - everyone goes to the marathon, you know, everyone crowds around the finish line - and those endless endless spans of radio silence between, “I’m okay, are you okay?” and “Yes, yes, I’m okay, I’m safe” were awful, dark and twisted paths that my brain lit up with screams and sirens.  The news kept pouring in - another bomb, another, a fire, the dead, the injured.  There was blood all over the sidewalks.  There was blood all over the fucking sidewalks.
Yesterday was measured in heartbeats.
But everyone I love is safe.  So that is something.  A selfish, overwhelming something, for which I am so, so grateful.
And then there was the sheer outpouring of goodness, the number of people who ran toward the explosions, the offers of housing and money and whatever people could give, the messages from everywhere - We stand with you, we’re here for you, we’re here… It’s dizzying, that kind of love.  Over and over, it brought me to tears.  Because this is what we do, we humans.  When it comes down to it, we just really and truly and fiercely love the shit out of each other.
Still, I called in to work today.  When I woke up this morning and thought about going in - climbing into a metal tube, winding through underground tunnels into the heart of the city, sitting all day at a desk in a federal building - my anxiety-disordered brain was having none of it.  Part of me thinks, “This is the point.  This is what it means to sow fear.  You have to be stronger than this.”  The other part of me just keeps thinking of how afraid all of those people must have been.  How terrified, in those moments, under a bizarrely sunny sky, when everything was torn apart.
I’m trying - trying - to keep my eyes on the good.
I just…
This place.  You know?
It’s my home.


pebbles and sand

One of my dear friends and I were talking a few weeks ago about ambition, and busy-ness, and our relentless drive to fill our days with goals that need to be met and lists of items that need to be checked off.  We're both pretty motivated ladies, successful, educated, eager.  One of the reasons we so appreciate one another's company, I think, is that we don't have to apologize for striving.  We know we're going to work hard to get what we want.  We know we're busy.  We expect it from one another.

She was telling me about a friend, someone I've never met.  "You ask him what he's been up to, and he says things like, 'Well, I ate some really delicious ice cream the other day.  And then I found an amazing swimming hole.'  Everyone else answers that question by telling you how busy they've been and how stressed out they are.  There aren't very many people who focus on the deliciousness of ice cream."

No, no there aren't.

There's a story, about a philosophy professor who stood up in front of his class holding a glass jar.  He filled it to the top with several bulky rocks and asked, "Is the jar full?"  The class answered that yes, of course it was - obviously, there was no room inside for more rocks.  Then the professor pulled out a bag of pebbles and poured it in.  The small stones filled the nooks left by the rocks, and the professor asked again, "Is the jar full?"  Oh, yes, it's definitely full now, the class answered.  Then the professor pulled out a bag of sand and shook it into the jar.  The sand wound its way into the tiny spaces between the pebbles.  "How about now?"  This time, certainly, the jar was full, the class responded.  Then the professor cracked open a can of beer, and poured it into the jar.

The jar represents our lives, the professor explained.  The rocks are the most important things - our families, our friendships, our health, the things that, if all else were lost, would still leave us feeling
fulfilled.  The pebbles are other, less important things - our jobs, our cars, our houses.  The sand is everything else - whether the kitchen is clean at the end of the night, whether you remembered to
buy shampoo, whether your lawn looks as nice as the neighbors'.  The little things.

If you put the sand in the jar first, you might be able to layer some pebbles on top, but you'll never fit the rocks inside, he explained.  And the same goes for your life.  If you spend your days focusing on
the thousand tiny annoyances on your checklist, you've got no room left for the things that really
Pay attention to the rocks, he advised.  Everything else is just so much sand.

(Then, of course, one of his students asked what the beer represented.   "Oh, well," the professor replied, "that just goes to show that no matter how full your life might seem, there's always room for a beer or two."  Ba-doom SHA!)

This moment, when I'm questioning the validity of my own striving, seems as good a time as any to also question what, exactly, I'm striving toward.  The thing is, I've achieved a lot of the goals that people my age are "supposed" to be aiming for - I have two degrees, a good job, an awesome spouse.  I own my own home.  There are kids on the horizon.*  I'm doing the things I'm supposed to be doing, and I should be happy, but that feeling of not quite being there - wherever there is - is ever-present.  It just doesn't let up.  I should be more successful! the voice in my head says.  I should be published by now!  I should make more money!  We should start saving for a bigger house!  And nicer stuff!  And I should be a more productive person!  Why is my living room so messy?  Why do I watch so much TV?  Why aren't I more responsible with my time?  Why don't I exercise more, eat better, call my friends and family more often, use more of my free time for writing, keep to a chore schedule, answer emails promptly?  Why don't I blog more often???

Suffice to say, when people ask what I've been up to, my answer doesn't involve the taste of ice cream.

The truth is, I'm afraid to let up on myself.  I'm afraid that if I stop pushing, all of my goals will fall away and my life will feel... meaningless.  There's a big black hole of fear - fear of failure, of disappointment, of inadequacy - that sits right there in the middle of me, and it's easy to fill that hole with pebbles and sand, because there's no shortage of pebbles and sand.  It feels good to feel busy.  It feels useful.

But the true purpose of my life is not to fill that sucking black hole.  I know what I have to do, which is turn away from it, to resist the pull.  Because of this much, at least, I am sure: I cannot expect a life built on a foundation of sand and pebbles to carry the weight of me and everything I am and
everything I want to be and do and see and feel in the course of this small but incredible existence I have been granted.

What would my world look like if I used all of my ambition, all of my crazy type-A motivation, to point myself in the direction of a life that would make me truly happy, instead of prioritizing all the trillion little pointless things that I'm told are supposed to make me happy?

What would it look like to push myself, hard, to find joy?

What would a life built on a foundation of rock feel like?

I don't know.  But I'd like to find out.

Stay tuned.

*Blog post for another day, but no, nobody's pregnant or anything.  Farther horizon than that.  :)



The lovely and talented Suze over at Subliminal Coffee just tagged me in a blogging game, wherein I'm to take my current manuscript, search for the word "look," and post the surrounding excerpt.  Except I'm breaking the rules a bit, because I'm not really ready to post something from my current WIP.  Instead, I thought I'd follow Suze's lead and take a lil trip down memory lane.  So... here's an excerpt from my very first attempt at writing a novel.  This thing wasn't sure what it wanted to be - YA?  MG?  Something with a coherent storyline?  (Okay, definitely not that last one.)  It veered around a lot, and did a lot of crazy things.  In any case, this is a little scrap of that rambling behemoth. 

For context, our teenaged hero, Declan, has just been released from a jail cell where he was being held for shoplifting; a strange man in a top hat claimed to be the owner of the store and declined to press charges.  Declan is confused (because he most certainly was shoplifting) but he's also grateful.  Until they head outside and the man starts saying some weird things to him...

"Are you feeling it yet?”

“Feeling… what?” Declan asked.  He was definitely regretting his impulse to speak to the man.

“The yearning.”  The man peered at Declan, studying him.  “The calling must have started by now.  We have to move.”

He remembered the flash of longing he’d felt a moment before.  “Hang on —”

"I’ll explain later.  We don’t have much time," the man said.  He grasped Declan's arm with his narrow fingers and beginning to pull him away.

"Whoa, dude - let me go!"  He jerked his arm out of the old man’s grasp.  I should get out of here, he thought.  This guy was obviously crazy, and besides, he had to make it home before his dad noticed he was gone.  He didn’t have time to play guessing games with a lunatic in a top hat. 

But something was happening.  As soon as the man had named the feeling - yearning, he had called it - it had roused something in Declan, something that had until that moment been napping, fitfully, but quiet.  But the moment the man  uttered the word, Declan felt it roar to life, growing in his stomach like an ache.  He had good, logical reasons for walking away, he knew that, but the yearning… there it was, stirred to wakefulness swift and sudden, mushrooming in him like a cloud, swelling in his lungs, plunging into his limbs, holding him fast.  He wanted… he wanted to stay.  He had to stay.  He couldn’t explain it, but it was a truth that infused every part of him.
Or almost every part of him.  There remained the smallest fragment of his mind not yet inundated with longing, and that part began to buzz with panic.  That part of him, the part that suddenly realized something was very wrong, flashed like a neon sign: run.  RUN!   For the briefest second the impulse to flee overrode everything else, and he turned, gathering his strength, but it was no use: the longing gripped his heart with fingers like ice, and his body refused cooperate.  He tried to take a step and his feet tangled beneath him.  He crashed to the ground, breathing heavily.

"Oh dear," the man tutted, towering over Declan as he lay splayed across the asphalt.  His eyes darted around, searching.  “Oh dear, oh dear.  Well, don’t just lie there - get up.  Get up!”

“What’s happening?” Declan asked, pulling himself to his feet. 

“The calling,” the man said.  “They've started.”

Declan noticed that the fog had been growing steadily thicker in the past few minutes.  It was dense as brick now; the whole world had shrunk down to a distinct sphere just large enough for the two of them to stand in.  An eerie silence fell, punctuated only by their own ragged breathing.
And then a whisper, from somewhere outside their circle. 

Declan jerked his head around, looking for the source of the sound. 

“Did you hear that?”

The old man's voice cracked.  "Don't listen to it.”  His long fingers worried at his throat, and for a moment he seemed unable to speak.  But then:  “You have to run.”

Declan was vaguely aware of the man tugging on his arm, trying to get him to move, but he swatted him away.  The yearning had finished its job; there was no more panic.  He was rooted to the spot.
"No," he told the man authoritatively. "I have to wait here."

He sat down on the asphalt, jaw set.  He had never felt more certain of anything in his life.  The thing he was waiting for - it was on its way.

The old man hovered over Declan, wringing his hands and tugging at him, trying to coax him into standing, but Declan ignored him. 

“You don’t understand… it’s your blood they’re after, Declan, your blood - you have to run…”

But Declan wasn’t listening.  All around him, he could feel the swirling fog that carried the voice of someone calling his name, carried it to him in a sickly sweet voice.  The fog brought him his name, and it sounded like molasses.



dispatches from a quiet place

 I'm on a writing retreat.  At a bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere.  For a week.

 my backyard this week.

I can count on one hand the number of words I've said out loud today.  I can NOT count on one hand the number of words I've written.  As I, ahem, may have mentioned once or twice, this hasn't exactly been my pattern as of late, so I'm a pretty happy girl right now.

There are gorgeous red-and-yellow trees outside my window.  A squeaky bed.  A desk, a table lamp.  I came armed with 12 pens, 500 notecards, 3 legal pads, and Scrivener.  I've gotten more done in the last 24 hours than I have in the last 6 months.

I need to put this quiet space in a bottle and take it home with me.

Also this view.



this is what it feels like

Law school didn't actually teach me all that much about the law.  The basics, sure.  But the thing about lawyering is that you mostly learn by doing - it's the procedural stuff that people pay you for, really, the ability to navigate unnecessarily difficult waters without drowning.  (I mean, don't tell anyone, but... the actual law?  It's all right there, written down in books.  IIIII KNOW.)  It isn't that statutes and regulations are even all that hard to understand - they're just frequently complicated in their interpretation, their execution.  Hence: the lawyers.

So while the law itself was ostensibly the focus of my education, I didn't walk away having memorized, y'know, every case ever.  What I really learned in law school was how to think in a very particular way.  How to contextualize; how to identify and exploit ambiguity; how to anticipate and preempt counterarguments.  I learned to read closely, and then even more closely, to parse every clause with care, because a single word can mean the difference between winning and losing an argument.  (Really: I cringe to think of the number of trees that have given their lives to heated debates over the statutory distinction between "may" and "shall").  I wasn't aware of it happening at the time, but as I look back, I can see it so clearly - the way my brain shifted.  I started out a liberal arts grad who was used to making impassioned arguments that appealed to emotion, goodness, righteousness.  I graduated with the ability to search and destroy, to identify loopholes and widen them until they took on the shape of valid arguments, to craft theories out of something as mundane as comma placement.  This is what it felt like: that law school changed the landscape of my mind.

Something like that is happening again.

Last April my anxiety disorder got so out of control that I finally started therapy.  It was something I had been thinking about for a while, but when my panic and fear reached the point that I was seriously considering never leaving my house again, I finally made the call.  I was incredibly lucky to end up with an amazing therapist on my first try.  She's quite good at appealing to (and out-arguing) my lawyer brain when I'm in stubborn logic mode, which is vital - but she's also right there with me when I talk about signs from the universe or whether or not there's a Grand Plan or people's "energy" or what happens to our souls after we die.  She cites scientific study and Buddhist theology with equal ease.  It's a good combination for me.  But mostly - and this is the crux of her job, really, I suppose - she challenges so many things I have unquestionably believed to be true, and in that questioning an empty space opens wide.  I stare into the darkness of that place.  And slowly, slowly, I begin to shine light into it. 

This is what it feels like: like I'm expanding, unearthing, pushing apart and coming together all at once, amplifying, releasing, drawing my first breath.  Like I'm constructing galaxies in my heart.  For so long I was living in a tiny airless room, concrete walls pressing against my chest, fluorescent lights buzzing in my eyes.  And now, suddenly, there is air.  There is sunlight.  Suddenly I am infinite.

It's a little bit awesome.  No, actually, it's truly awesome - and I mean that in the literal sense, in that I am filled with awe, I am awed.  The world looked one way, and now it looks completely different, and nothing changed but me.  It's exhilarating.  It's also some of the hardest work I've ever done, exhausting, mind-razing work.  There are THINGS in that darkness, things that inhabit darkness for a reason, things that hiss at the light and glare at you with sunken sun-starved eyes and glittering teeth, things that threaten to devour you whole.  Sitting with those things is hard.  Banishing them is harder.  Loving them, taking them into your arms, showing them compassion - that's the hardest thing of all.

(Isn't it always?)

"I feel like I don't have the words for this," I said to my therapist a few weeks ago.  I was frustrated, unable to articulate a feeling, unable to move past it.  "It's like... it's like I'm having to learn a new language to talk to you."  I was grasping, literally, my hands opening and closing around nothing.

She nodded.  "Yes.  I know," she said.  "You're finding your voice." 

She watched as the words sunk in, as my hands finally stilled.

Oh, I thought. 

This is what it feels like.



Oh, hello there.

*dusts off cobwebs*  *sneezes*

Bet you're wondering what super exciting things I've been up to when I haven't been here, yes?  Glad you asked, because here's a handy list:
  • Celebrating my wife's birthday
  • Going to a wedding in Pittsburgh
  • Helping form a critique group
  • Working working working
  • Chopping all my hair off
  • Hanging out with my mom, who's visiting for a week or so
  • Redecorating my house - more painting!  Buying of a new couch!  Searching for accessories!
  • Preparing to NOT die during the 10k I'll be running this weekend
  • Taking ridiculous pictures of my cats
  • Reading reading reading
  • Planning a writer's retreat for myself

(There may have been some TV, naps, and other time-wasters interspersed in there as well, but I prefer to gloss over those for posterity's sake.)

Notice what's not on that list?  Yeah, writing.  Hence the radio silence on the blog - this is supposed to be a sort of record of my writing journey, and, well, checking in to say, "Hey, I've been slacking/uninspired/frustrated/blah/*vomits*" does not make for great reading.  I try to blog when I have something to say, and apparently I don't have much to say lately.

I'd like to blame being busy or overworked or whatever, but the truth is I've just been lazy.  I have time to write - I'm making the choice not to.  (I hate seeing those words, but they're true.)

And now of course I'm facing the inevitable writerly dread, which is to say, it is SO MUCH HARDER to get back into writing when you haven't been doing it regularly.  I want to make writing a daily practice, like some people meditate or pray.  Or that's what I think I want, anyway... my actions would seem to indicate otherwise.


(Fun to read, right?)  :)

Okay, so this is where you come in.  HALP.  I need encouragement, or wisdom, or tips and tricks, or anything you might have to offer.  How do you incorporate writing into your daily life?  How do you ease back in?  How do you stay motivated? 

All thoughts appreciated.  Thank you!!